The Costakis collection under scientific scrutiny

An important project involving the conservation and digital documentation of the Costakis collection of Russian avant-garde art has been completed by the State Museum of Contemporary Art (owner of the collection) in Thessaloniki in collaboration with the Getty Foundation, sponsor of the research. This is the first time that a Greek museum has been funded by the Getty Foundation. It is also the first time since 2000 – when the then newly established museum acquired the works – that the collection (1,275 early 20th century Russian avant-garde artworks) has undergone such detailed, scientific research and thorough conservation. The project lasted about 18 months and its results were announced earlier in the month. The research also resulted in the discovery of some new works. One of them is a sketch made by El Lissitzky for the cover of a 1923 issue of the art magazine Proun, few copies of which can be found today. Another discovery were 30 recto-verso (double-faced) works, mostly drawings by different artists of the avant-garde, among them Ivan Kliun, Liubov Popova and Kazimir Malevich. In the post-revolutionary years, the scarcity of expensive materials for painting led many artists to resort to used paper, cardboard packaging and other inexpensive materials. The drawings themselves reflect this phenomenon. All works that were included in the research were photographed and scanned using ultraviolet and infrared rays, their different layers of paint were studied and documented and new data were revealed concerning the dating of some paintings, their techniques and materials. Based on this new data, researchers can now appraise how to restore and conserve each and every piece of the Costakis collection. The conservation of the collection has become a priority and a specific plan (the conservation management plan) has been drawn up. Other issues, such as setting the appropriate temperature and lighting in the exhibition halls were also examined. Besides the conservation project, the museum is continuing its outward-looking policy and collaboration with international museums. Works from the Costakis collection are included in exhibitions in different parts of the world. An exhibition on «Cubofuturism» at London’s Estorick museum is now on view at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Another exhibition is also being held in Bologna and two different presentations are scheduled for September at the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven and the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Bergamo. Next year, works of the Costakis collection will travel to the Pompidou Center. The museum has also announced large exhibitions on the Costakis collection at the Maillol Museum in Paris, the Santander art museum in Spain and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. These plans cover the period of the next four years. They show how strong an asset the Costakis collection is in paving the way for collaboration with major institutions and exchanging important works for temporary loan. The State Museum of Contemporary Art has also planned a series of activities with Greek institutions, such as the Athens Concert Hall, the Museum of Photography in Thessaloniki and the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art. Starting in December, the museum will also issue the first of a series of publications (released by Futura) focusing on specialized issues related to the Costakis collection. This first issue will examine the works of three Latvian artists represented by the collection: Gustav Klutsis, Alexandr Drevin and Karl Ioganson and will be released on the occasion of a film on Klutsis which is a joint project of the museum, Greek Radio and TV and Latvian TV. Seen as a whole, these plans demonstrate the concerted and ongoing effort of a Greek museum and of its director Maria Tsantsanoglou to fully capitalize on its invaluable, permanent collection of Russian avant-garde artworks.